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Is it Safe to Use a Catalytic Heater in a Tent?

January 08 2021

Winter camping can be great. It can be a unique adventure but you need to be prepared. One of the most important questions you should be asking is ‘what’s the best way to keep warm at night?’.

The best and most obvious answer is to use a heater, but what type is the safest to use as a tent heater for your next camping trip.

The answer is a soft yes if you’re careful. So let’s explore the upsides and the dangers of using a catalytic heater in a tent, and discuss when it’s safe to do so.

What Exactly is a Catalytic Heater?

In short, a catalytic heater is a portable heater with no flame. It relies on natural gas like propane as a catalyst for a chemical reaction that produces heat.

This makes it far safer for use inside a tent than anything with an open flame. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any fire hazards involved when used in an enclosed space. Catalytic heaters still get very hot, so there is still a risk of fire anytime something flammable comes too close, like your sleeping bag.

However, what this does mean is that it is far safer to use indoors and in a tent. Things are less likely to catch alight, and no flame means no smoke.

This makes it a great option to use as a tent heater. A campfire is always nice, but it doesn’t help when you’re trying to bed down for the night.

But, the risks are still real with a catalytic heater, as much as it is somewhat of an ideal option, it is important to understand how they work and to take the proper safety precautions.

Related Article: How to Winterize your Tent

What Are the Risks of a Catalytic Heater?

Using the heater, or any heater in an enclosed space comes with risks.

As I previously mentioned, even though the risk is much lower than with an open flame, any sort of heater carries a fire risk with it, a catalytic heater included.

If positioned too close to the walls or roof of your tent, or your sleeping bag, then you run the risk of causing a fire. Similarly, if you place other objects too near it, they might catch alight.

The heater can also be especially dangerous if it gets knocked over as it is very likely to burn anything it falls onto.

Besides the fire hazard, some catalytic heaters produce anything from slight to large amounts of carbon monoxide (CO) depending on the make and model. This can make using a catalytic heater risky, especially at night while you’re sleeping.

While using a catalytic heater in your tent isn’t without risk, there are several ways that you can minimize those risks.

Which Catalytic Heaters Are Safe to Use?

The best heaters to use for indoor purposes, especially inside of a tent, are propane heaters that will not produce carbon monoxide. These will put you at the least risk while using them, especially with proper ventilation.

The best heaters for this are heaters with a CSA 4.89 certification. Any heaters with this certification meet the standards for a heater that produces as little CO as possible.

It’s a good idea to do some research on the tent heater that you are considering purchasing to see what other users think of its functionality and safety, but the CSA 4.89 certification is an easy way of telling the safe to use tent heaters from the not-so-safe.

Propane heaters will come with a variety of safety features. There are heaters that have their own carbon monoxide detector, which is useful for early detection of a malfunction or any dangerous buildup of gases.

Signs of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning


Of course, even when you’re being careful, things can go wrong. That’s why it’s important to be vigilant for any symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Symptoms can be similar to that of the flu, so if you suddenly find yourself feeling like you’ve caught something since bedding down, it may be time to turn of the heater and get out of your tent.

The predominant early symptoms are a headache, dizziness, and loss of judgment or confusion. In very acute cases, this can accelerate to nausea, weakness, chest pain, vomiting, and convulsion.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.

What is the Safest Way to Use a Catalytic Heater in a Tent?

The biggest thing to keep in mind for the safe use of a catalytic heater in any sort of indoor environment is ventilation.

While it might seem counterintuitive to open your tent while warming it up, airing out the gases is very important. The opening doesn’t need to be huge, just a small crack in the zipper near the heater will work. As long as some fresh air can get in, you’re good to go.

Keep your heater away from anything else. This includes the tent walls and ceiling. A bigger tent may be necessary if you only have a small, 2-man tent.

Bigger tents might have more space that needs to be heated up, but they reduce the risk of parts of your tents being burnt.

Make sure your heater is far away from any of your other items, too. Keep as much empty space around the heater as possible to avoid any accidents.

What you can do is put a canvas bag or something non-flammable underneath your heater. That way, if it gets knocked over at any point, there will be an extra layer of protection between it and your tent.

Keeping the gas tank outside your tent is also a good idea. Just make sure that whatever connects it to your heater is tightly sealed. That way, if your tank leaks at all, it shouldn’t leak into your tent.

If your heater doesn’t come with a carbon monoxide detector, make sure to get one and set it up near your heater.

Finally, it’s safest to use your heater a little bit before you actually get into your tent. Turn it on while you’re still up and about or relaxing by the fire. Not only will this make your tent nice and toasty for when you get inside, but it will mean that you’ll spend less time around the gas should anything go wrong.

Turn your heater off before you go to sleep, and you’re good to go! Leaving it on while you’re sleeping is incredibly dangerous, but don’t worry, the residual heat should keep you warm the whole night.

No matter what heater you decide to use, always ensure you have proper ventilation in your tent.

In Summary

A catalytic heater, like any heat source, carries its own risks, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely unsafe to use as a tent heater. With the right precautions in place, it can be the perfect heater to use in a tent.

So, if you find yourself struggling to get warm, bust out the heater! Just make sure you’re being cautious the whole time.

If you are looking for the ideal catalytic heater that is safe to use in a tent then I highly recommend looking into the Coleman SportCat heater for your next camping trip. It’s one of the best tent heaters on the market and perfectly designed for cold weather camping.

Did you find this article helpful? Do you have any safety tips for using catalytic heaters? Let me know in the comments, and don’t forget to share.